Grow a Drift Rose as a Fabulous Flowering Groundcover

Roses used to be known as finicky divas, but a Drift rose is easy-care, compact, and free-blooming, making it a standout ground cover.

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Apricot Drift roses

Roses used to be known for requiring so much specialized care, they needed their own section of the garden. Today’s breeders are creating roses that blend into our lives and our gardens. A Drift rose may become your new favorite groundcover for sunny garden beds, to control erosion on a hillside, or just as a pretty patio accent. Not only do roses from this series keep your soil cool but a Drift rose will deliver sumptuous bouquets all summer, while being compact and easy-care.

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Drift Rose Varieties

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Coral Drift roses

Drift roses arose from a cross between larger groundcover roses and miniature roses, creating a hearty combination with great repeat bloom. There are 11 varieties in the Drift series in dreamy colors from white and yellow to apricot, peach, coral, and deep rose.

The 1/1/2 inch wide flowers are plentiful and repeat freely throughout the season. Apricot Drift and Sweet Drift roses are tightly double, resembling an old Damask rose. Pink Drift rose is more open, revealing gold stamens and a white eye. If you can’t resist a fragrant rose, Peach Drift rose boasts a floral and honey scent. For pollinator-friendly options, choose Blushing Drift, Buttercream Drift or Popcorn Drift. The series is listed as hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 11, except for Yellow Drift, which is hardy from 5 to 11. Most are described by the breeder as disease-resistant.

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Drift Rose Planting and General Care

Pruning Drift RosesIcemanJ/Getty Images
Drift roses will keep blooming even without deadheading

Each Drift rose thrives in six to eight hours of direct sun, in neutral soil (ranging from a pH of 5.5 to 6.5).

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With one annual pruning, a Drift rose can stay about 1 ½ to 2 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide. Simply trim them to about 6 to 8 inches high when new growth emerges in spring – often around Presidents’ Day, depending on your climate. Also, remove any dead or crossing branches to improve growth and airflow.

Deadheading is not necessary for your Drift roses. If you prefer a tidier look, you can deadhead spent blooms. You can expect new blooms every 5 to 6 weeks until frost without trimming. If you choose to deadhead, as with other roses, snip above a leaflet with five leaves, ideally one facing outward.

Not much is needed in the way of fertilizer either. If desired, the breeders recommend waiting until the rose is established in your garden and has bloomed once. After the first bloom cycle, you can apply a balanced fertilizer with similar N-P-K fertilizer ratio numbers, such as 10-10-10, or one formulated for roses. To prevent burning the roots, water the soil first, then add fertilizer, and water again. It’s important to stop fertilizing in late summer to allow your rose to slow its growth and prepare for winter.

Watering Drift Roses

As to watering, in-ground plants once established should do well with a deep watering once a week. Container plants may need watering twice a week or even more in hot weather. Especially during the first season, give extra water during hot and dry periods. Watering at the base of the plant rather than overhead watering with a hose or sprinkler promotes healthy growth and can avoid some diseases. Also, deep watering less often encourages deep root growth more than frequent light waterings .

It’s always important to notice how your plant is responding to its local conditions. If you notice yellowing leaves during high-heat events, it’s a sign the plant is trying to cool itself down. Remove the yellowed leaves, consider mulching, and water more often. However, if leaves are yellowing and dropping in mild weather, it could be caused by either too much water or fertilizer. Once established, roses would prefer being dry between waterings to being waterlogged.

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Drift Rose Troubleshooting

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Peach Drift roses

While most of the Drift series of roses has notable disease resistance to black spot and powdery mildew, some sources report occasional incidence of leaf spot, canker, and blight. Pests to look out for include bud borers, spider mites, and Japanese beetles. Stress, crowded planting, overhead watering, and over-fertilizing, especially with high nitrogen formulations can exacerbate or invite these issues.

Rose rosette disease is contagiously spreading across the country via a microscopic mite even in disease-resistant roses. Watch for signs such as newly thorny canes, persistent red stems and leaves, and distorted flower buds. If confirmed, destroy and remove the plant.

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Winter Care in Colder Climates

If you are growing in the colder portions of Drift roses’ hardiness range, you can give your roses some extra protection to help them through the winter. Apply a winter mulch of 2 to 3 inches of leaves or pine boughs around the base of garden plants to help insulate them. In the case of severe windstorms, you can wrap your plant in burlap. Remove mulch and burlap in spring at pruning time.

Drift roses in containers need special care. Their roots are more vulnerable to the winter’s drying winds and freezing temperatures. Let them go through the first few frost events outside. Then water lightly and bring them inside to a cool, dark area like a basement or garage. Water only enough during the winter to prevent drying out completely and bring them outside in early spring.

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Erica Browne Grivas
A longtime journalist and avid gardener, Erica Browne Grivas' writing explores the interplay of humans and nature. In addition to Birds & Blooms, she writes for publications like the Seattle Times, Horticulture, GardenRant, Pacific Horticulture and Digger Magazine, as well as contributing two columns for local Washington newspapers on gardening and health and wellness. She is a content consultant for Pacific Horticulture, aiding with website language, overall content, and video production. Garden Communicators International has awarded her both Silver and Gold medals of excellence for her garden features and columns. She has studied landscape design, worked in nurseries on two coasts, and represented garden media nationally as a director of Garden Communicators International.
Before turning her attention to gardening, she started out in journalism writing for the New York Post and then in television production at "Inside Edition." She loves sharing accurate, inspiring information to help people experience the joy of engaging with nature.